The New York Time had an article today titled, Most Americans Support Government Action on Climate Change, Poll Finds. A recent study conducted by both the New York Times and Stanford University shed light on the changing mindset of the American people and perhaps more importantly American Voters. The republican party is notorious for its position of climate change, in fact I wrote a blog post last semester on what the republican domination of the last election meant for government action on climate change… it was not optimistic. So this research came as a happy surprise. Its opening line states, that “An overwhelming majority of the American public, including nearly half of Republicans, support government action to curb global warming… [and] two-thirds of Americans say they are more likely to vote for political candidates who campaign on fighting climate change.” The study also found that the majority of people (and about half of republican voters) would be turned off by a candidate who questioned the science of climate change or called it a hoax.
However, this study begs the question, why are republicans candidates not in line with the views of their consituents? Clearly half of republicans in office do not think government should take action on climate change. Of the 2012 republican presidential candiateds only one publicly acknowledged the science of climate changed and believed it to be “real,” and thought it would be beneficially to have some government policy for emissions reductions. The chair of the senate’s Environmental Committee is a republican by the of James Inhofe that literally wrote of book on climate change denial. Furthermore, the senate approved the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline, pushed by republican leadership despite its dire climate consequences.
Perhaps the answer lies in campaign finance. It is no big secret that big oil companies contribute hefty amounts of campaign funds to politicians with some expectations on how their candidates handle climate change. The article states that, “advocacy groups funded by the billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch have vowed to ensure that Republican candidates who advocate for climate change action will lose in primary elections.” Perhaps the divide between republicans and democrats is not actually as large as we often perceive, maybe the problem lies in a much broader issue of how we allow large corporations to influence American politics.
As was brought up countless times on our trip to D.C. last week, a main concern with U.S. climate policies is the possibility of a changing political leader every four or eight years. Furthermore, by including congressional elections to this equation, every two years the U.S. national political climate (no pun intended) changes. Thanks to the U.S. system of checks and balances, no matter whether it is the presidency or congressional majorities which change, both positions have the powerful ability to change policies through tools such as limiting funding and executive orders. There is hope that because Obama’s initiative for energy emissions reduction through the Clean Power Plan is implemented through the Clean Air Act, there will be few attempts to disassemble it as the Clean Air Act has met little opposition thus far.
This attention on national climate policy is no longer such a fringe topic, as is exemplified by the use of climate change as a debate topic for the upcoming Senate mid-term elections reported on by Coral Davenport and Ashley Parker in the NYTimes. Both Republicans and Democrats are focusing on climate, energy, and the environment in their ad campaigns and in some unpredictable ways. For example, both Republicans and Democrats in coal-producing states such as West Virginia are careful to support the industry and workers. However, in Colorado, Republican Senator Cory Gardner preaches clean energy in front of a wind turbine backdrop in one of his ads. The bottom line is no matter the stance, climate change will be a more central topic in this year’s midterm elections and even in the 2016 presidential elections. Already, senate debates in Arkansas, West Virginia, Louisiana, Kentucky, Colorado, and Iowa have included climate and environmental topics, compared to the 2012 presidential debates where climate change did not come up once.
The greater centrality of climate and energy policies in upcoming domestic elections makes me hopeful that something could be done regarding climate change in the future, and even better, possibly independent of a candidate’s party affiliation. Additionally, this rise in domestic political focus speaks to and provides hope for the idea that domestic action is the only way climate action will take place, even if determined on the international regime level. The need for nation-states’, and non-state actors for that matter, is vital for any possibility of international regime goals such as the 2°C warming limit, to be achieved.